Calm of Zen helps Murray to keep mind over matter

HELPED by an eastern influence – he's reading a book on the teachings of Zen and indulged in a spot of yoga over the winter to prevent a recurrence of some back trouble – George Murray stepped up his bid for a first professional win by securing the halfway lead in the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley yesterday.

A second successive four-under-par 67 gave the 27-year-old a one-shot cushion in the race for a 27,000 top prize over the Aviemore course. Murray, who finished third in this year's Madeira Island Open, a European Tour event, says his good form is down to Zen Golf – a book by Dr Joe Parent that has been endorsed by the likes of Vijay Singh, David Toms and Cristie Kerr. "I am playing a lot better as a result of feeling more relaxed," said the Fifer, who won the Scottish Amateur Championship in 2004.

"Since I have started to read Zen Golf, which is brilliant, my mental approach has improved. When I'm standing over four-footers they're not that important – it is not the end of the world if I miss one."

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Twice a runner-up on the Challenge Tour, Murray admits his strong showing on the main circuit earlier in the season proved timely. "It was a boost financially. It costs about 1,000 a week to play out here and I was needing that as I was a bit skint at the start of the year and would have ran up a huge credit card bill. The (36,500] I won has set me up for the year," he said.

Murray, who lives in Anstruther and plays his golf at Elie, where he has retained his link with Earlsferry Thistle, is determined he won't get in front of himself as the weekend's final rounds unfold.

"Everyone dreams of winning but I'm only halfway there," he said. "If you start thinking about winning it only creates extra pressure, which is unnecessary."

On a day when the wind had switched completely round from earlier in the week, the Scot, who is sharing a house close to the course with fellow competitors Scott Jamieson, Robert Dinwiddie and Adam Gee, almost holed his 5-iron tee shot at the par-3 16th and got up and down from bunkers for two more birdies on the back nine.

Jamieson, a 26-year-old from Glasgow who topped the PGA EuroPro Tour standings last season, is just three shots behind his housemate after he moved into contention in the 170,000 event with a second-round 69, coming home in 33. Greenock's Chris Doak, bidding to complete a Spey Valley double after winning the Northern Open two years ago, is also on five-under after a 70.

Lloyd Saltman, still trying to kick-start his professional career as Rory McIlroy and Rhys Davies, two of his Walker Cup team-mates, take the game by storm, catapulted himself up the leaderboard. The 24-year-old Archerfield Links man posted a 67 – his best round on the Challenge Tour since a similar effort in the Kazakhstan Open last September – to move to three-under, the same as Paul Lawrie team member Graeme Lornie, who had a bogey-free 68.

Saltman had arrived on Speyside at a low ebb after missing five consecutive cuts, but a change of attitude, coupled with some technical tweaks from coach Colin Brooks earlier in the week, helped him stop the rot and, in the process, put a spring back in his step at just the right time.

In 2005, as a 19-year-old, Saltman stood alongside Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie as he received the Silver Medal for finishing as leading amateur in the Open Championship at St Andrews and, not surprisingly, he's hoping to be back at the Old Course for the 150th anniversary of the world's oldest major next month. "I'm playing in the local final qualifying in two weeks' time and I'm hoping I get drawn at Scotscraig, where I qualified in 2005," he said. "The Old Course is one of my favourites and who knows what might happen if I can get back to St Andrews."

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Since playing in the same Great Britain & Ireland team as McIlroy and Davies at Royal County Down in 2007, Saltman has been left trailing in their wake, but said: "I know I have the ability and attitude. I've stopped beating myself up on the course since my dad watched me out in France recently and said he felt I didn't seem to be enjoying it. I've changed my focus as a result of that and it is good to be in contention in Scotland."

Murray's closest challengers are Swede Magnus Carlsson (70), Englishman Lee Slattery (66) and Christoph Gunter, a 24-year-old German who was persuaded to turn professional by Simon Marshall, a one-time Tartan Tour player. "This is the best I have played this year," he said after signing for a second-round 68, an effort matched by defending champion Jamie McLeary, who picked up four birdies in his last six holes, to move to three-under.